Overcoming Search Marketing Challenges in Japan

Welcome to the market of sophistication. You will find this article useful if you are working for a global company that wishes to expand business opportunity through digital marketing in Japan.

The Japanese market is attractive to foreign companies because it is a market where the digital reach to customers is available through many channels. It is the fourth largest Internet market in the world with over 100 million unique visitors and a population penetration of 86 percent. However, it is a unique market with some difficult-to-grasp nuances that, if ignored, can lead to failure in market penetration.

Are you ready to make a commitment?

The Japanese market has some influences from the Western markets, but consumers’ expectation stands on its own. There are challenges despite the attractive market size and maturity of digital reach to the customer in Japan. Y combinator startup, Strikingly Inc., makes some very valid points as to why it has avoided Japan and China for that matter. However, in its reasoning as to why it avoids Japan, there are insights into what unconditional and immersive commitment means. Strikingly’s assessment was this:

“Although both China and Japan are attractive, Strikingly has decided not to base itself there.

Localization would be a huge hassle, not only in terms of language, but also the differences in social network usage in both markets. The bottom line is that building up the Japanese market takes a lot of time. Unlike Southeast Asia, it’s not an economy that’s influenced by happenings in the United States or Europe.”

This is a business decision for a Y Combinator startup company because the investment model is based on an immediate 5–7 percent per week growth rate. That would be very difficult to achieve in the Japanese market, as Strikingly Inc. so clearly states.

I am a Japanese search marketer who uses Adobe Media Optimizer religiously in my day-to-day business of engaging Japanese consumers. I have committed to customize our global search strategy to respond to Japanese customer’s expectation. Here are some daily life experiences that I factor in when running paid search campaigns.

The Three Sugars Factor

The Japanese consumer is accustomed to being provided free perks for the products they buy. I recommend your marketing campaigns account for these unique cultural differences. Let me give you an example. How many types of sugar do you expect at a coffee shop? Probably you never expect having a variety of sugars and get discouraged by a single selection. There are at least three varieties of sugar: regular white sugar, brown organic sugar, and sugar with honey for certain types of drinks sold at Doutor coffee, the most popular coffee chain store in Japan. There is a reason it is the most popular coffee shop: by the way it treats customers. The fact of the matter is that the Japanese consumer has been spoiled by such treatment and it’s critical to know how you please them.

There are so many trivialities you will face when you are “lost in translation.” This three sugar factor may be a silly trivia, but it should make a marketer wonder why things are the way they are in this culture. In other words, it is representative of the kind of risk you face in marketing to the Japanese. They are extremely risk averse, even to the point of distrusting you because you didn’t respond to their bottom line or expectation. It’s risky not to consider how to address that in the strategy and tactics of your marketing campaigns. Understanding these cultural nuances will lead to successful digital marketing campaigns. .

Build Trust through Risk Management

So, what can be the “three sugar factor” in your marketing activity specifically? A key to success is to build trust.

There are subtle ways to create paid search (PPC) ads to gain the confidence of the Japanese consumer. For example, by adding the Japanese phrase, “Official Site (公式サイト)” in the ad copy title helped increase CTR by 93 percent compared to paid search ads without it. No doubt, the quality content written in Japanese is an essential best practice because the words you choose create perception and the right words create trust.

Finally, another example to gain trust is by information you provide in landing pages. We ran a landing page test between an English page that was localized and a page with original Japanese content. Both pages describe the product, but in a different manner. Put simply, the Japanese native content page included much more context than the localized English page. The result proved the original Japanese page converted better. It helped increase the conversion rate by 26 percent because the additional context and information helped eliminate Japanese consumers’ concern about the products and gave them a supportive push to purchase.

Let’s categorize potential risks to help gain trust in your marketing activity in japan.

Trust is one globally essential element to building business in any foreign market, but the Japan market needs more attention to how you gain trust. We are looking at an ethnocentric country that historically has never been colonialized by other countries. Distrust becomes fear and fear leads to habitual avoidance of risk. Understanding their concerns will lead you to successful campaigns and the business of the Japanese consumer.

Risk management is one of many cultural factors. Understanding their rationale will help in navigating the sophisticated maze of how to prepare the content for campaigns.

In future articles, I will dwell more on other cultural factors, such as Japanese hospitality and attentive behavior to details in the service or product.